Public Schools: Strict Traditional Education vs Citizen Development

I didn’t want to bog down the compulsory education thread so I’m pulling this out. What should the focus of our public schools be? The development of responsible citizens with job skills, or simply to provide the traditional basic core of education that pertains to job skills?

The pertinent quotes:

I’ve seen this sentiment in other education threads as well. The only thing our schools should be focused on is (now I’m admittedly reading between the lines here) a core set of traditional subjects.

From the discussions I’ve had with the educators I know, the realities in classrooms are that, while that would be great - it is not possible. The ‘education only’ mindset requires that students have a basic understanding of community, appropriate behavior in a community and social norms when they arrive in the classroom. This core knowledge doesn’t exist with every student, so time needs to be taken to educate those who don’t yet possess that knowledge. I don’t understand the anger at that or the references to indoctrination. I didn’t figure social skills and understanding how to work and communicate in a group would be controversial, but apparently it is. Why is that? And what is your take on the question of the role of public education? Are my educator friends off their collective rocker?

Which social norms do you think teachers should teach? Most times I hear people say the schools should teach morality, and that’s what you are saying even if you didn’t use the word, they’re talking about turning kids into good little robots that wouldn’t dare express an opinion around an adult, never ever questions authority, says their prayers before bed every night, and basically act like an idealistic white middle class child.

You show me a way to teach children morality in schools that doesn’t fall into that and I might agree. I’ve never heard of it yet though.

All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Yeah, it’s glurgy, but there it is. Basic morality with no religion.

You learn to be a good citizen in school so that you can learn academics in school. If you don’t learn to share resources, to clean up after yourself, to solve disputes without hitting, to apologize when you’re in the wrong…then there’s no classroom control. Sure, in an ideal world, kids would come into kindergarten already knowing these things, but in reality, many of them don’t. At that point, it becomes both a part of teacher self-preservation and a part of readying the class for academic learning, so it’s in the school’s best interest to teach them, not instead of reading and writing and arithmetic, but in addition to them (and preferably first.)

ETA: BTW, I haven’t read the other thread, just responding to the OP on its own merits.

You are absolutely correct, but the problem comes in in several ways:

  • Some (if not many) parents will not enforce those rules at home, and you end up with an uneven education on those things.

  • Lots of different types of people will start adding to that list, either on their own or by protesting at the school. And this comes from all sides, from the religious wackos who want a reference to gods to a hard left ecology nut who wants to add language about veganism. Hell, I personally know lots of people who object based on the inclusion of fatty, sugary cookies!

  • Those things are open to interpretation at their base - “stick together” could mean anything from “it takes a village” to “keep it in the family”

Therefore, I think the only fair answer is to leave morality out of it entirely. And I think that school is for education only. When I think of the time that’s wasted on bullying programs and drug awareness programs and National School Lunch Day, it makes me crazy. Can’t we put that time into something more appropriate, like teaching basic money skills, wood shop, cooking and other home ec type skills?

They have to cut funding for the arts, but all the kids get free “No Bullying Zone” t shirts. What a waste.

Have we ever had an educational system that didn’t have some sort of ethical or moral framework? I was taught that it was wrong to cheat off my classmates, rewarded and lauded for applying myself and making decent grades, and taught that I should do things like share. If these aren’t moral lessons what are?

You show me a way to completely separate morality from school. I don’t think it can be done.

Aren’t school lunches and anti-bullying programs mainly about enabling a learning environment?

And as Odesio says, separating morality from education seems impossible. (I think it’s hard to separate morality from most things we do, for that matter.) Teachers give moral lessons every day in the way they conduct themselves and manage classes, if nothing else.

I cannot possibly believe that anyone who’s been in a classroom thinks that anti-bullying programs are a waste.

When a student flips out and starts throwing pencils, and one of them hits another student in the eye, is it seriously a waste of time to discuss how such violence impacts the community?

Is it a waste to have a lesson on how to recognize one’s emotions and control them?

When I taught the Prisoner’s Dilemma to my students, was that a waste?

It’s a totally absurd idea to think that academic subjects can be taught in a moral vacuum. Children don’t live in a moral vacuum. We don’t turn away students who were punched in the stomach last night and who haven’t eaten anything except diet Dr. Pepper for breakfast. Margaret Atwood said that “little girls [and boys, incidentally] aren’t cute to one another, they’re life-sized,” and that’s true every day of my job.

Some of them get really good training at home on how to deal with conflict. Some of them are told that if someone hits them, hit back harder. I’ve got to teach them how to recognize symmetry, and how to tell a sequential story, and how to write reasonable dialog, and how to describe similarities and differences between their own community and another community, and how to use a computer, and how to test a scientific hypothesis.

I cannot possibly teach them such things if pencils are being thrown, if there are constant arguments over whether the black boy stole the white girl’s scissors, if there are children booing when they find out who their partners for an experiment will be, if there are students who respond to minor frustration with full-scale meltdown.

I HAVE to teach morality, or else the classroom can’t function.

And the morality I teach is simple:
-Treat one another with kindness and respect.
-Stand up to injustice.
-Consider what you want to accomplish, and work backwards to figure out what you need to do to accomplish it.
-Approach your work with a can-do attitude. Understand that people are paying upwards of $50 every day for your education, and you are choosing whether to honor that gift or to flush it down the toilet.
-Consider how your actions affect other people.
-Consider how your actions affect how other people respond to you.

Okay, maybe it’s not so simple. I doubt any of what I teach is, in any meaningful sense, controversial.

Well, I’m not sure what you mean about the lunch thing (eating meal helps learning? I agree with that, of course) but I’m talking more about the time spent on each thing.

For example, my children have been through hours and hours of anti-bullying programs, and the school has spent tons of money on t-shirts, materials, hand-outs, outside programs and top quality “This is an Anti-Bullying Zone” signs for each school, at multiple points in the school. And this is each year - when third grade starts, rinse and repeat (well, not the signs, but you get my drift).

I don’t know of any great decline in bullying, and I don’t know that is was such a problem in the first place.

That’s exactly what I mean, and it’s hugely important.

Have you asked them?

Asked who what? Obviously, I can only go from what I know in experience, but I welcome any cites re: bullying.

But if they’re as “successful” as anti-drug programs, then…

* Play fair.
* Don't hit people.
* Don't take things that aren't yours.

These three are ok. And fine, if children don’t know them, teach them. After that hour lecture is over, the rest of the school year can be used for education.

* Share everything.
  • Except test answers, gossip, secrets, VD, or any of the other things that can get you in serious shit if shared.

    • Put things back where you found them.
    • Clean up your own mess.
  • Because teacher is tired of dealing with you little rugrats, and your goal in life should be to make teachers life easy.

    • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • No one cares if you mean it or not though. Actually, a valuable lesson in life but not exactly what people want their children learning.

    • Wash your hands before you eat.
    • Flush.
  • Due to funding cuts, health class has been reduced to two bulletpoints in middle of a glurge list. So remember kids, don’t play with your own shit.

    • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Except you over there in the corner. You’re a diabetic fatass already.

    • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Except we do have pretty good ideas on why the roots go down and the plant goes up. It’s called biology. We’d teach you that, except we’re too busy trying to revive the little fatass passed out from hypoglycemic shock because one of you gave him cookies. Dammit, when we said share, we didn’t actually mean it!

    • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
  • Usually because one of you tried shoving a pencil in their eye.

The administration. Have you asked the administration if bullying is actually a problem? They might actually have data to back it up. Though my experience says probably not (but that’s a whole other topic :slight_smile: ) The teachers aren’t the ones responsible for things like school/district-wide anti-bullying programs. They are the ones responsible for creating well rounded citizens though.

Negative…parents are responsible for creating well rounded citizens.

Which brings us full circle…:wink:

It seems to be that there is a difference in teaching students social skills and in teaching them how to be good citizens.

Teachers are constantly teaching social skills. I don’t think that we are exactly “responsible” for teaching them. That is mainly the parents’ job. But you can’t run a classroom without teaching or reenforcing some of the skills for getting along that have already been mentioned.

But if I am to teach citizenship skills, I reserve the right to teach my view of what a good citizen is. Since I taught English, I would emphasize the importance of civil disobedience as explained in Thoreau’s essay by that name. I would “preach” Emerson’s ideas on non-comformity. I would bring in some material on the values of Pacifism to balance and as an alternative to Patrick Henry’s speech at St. John’s Church. I would use feminist literature to teach that all genders should have equal social, economic and political opportunities. I would use the Declaration of Independence to teach that a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body.

Okay, I confess. I would use these as starting points for sparking the students’ own thinking about these issues. But that wouldn’t sit well with all administrators and parents.

You think first graders – six year olds, for the most part – can all learn and remember these rules after a one hour lecture? You’re dreaming. My wife is a first grade teacher, and boy, the stories she tells. Some kids are OK, but others have to be retaught these basic lessons every single day.

And what do you do when parents fail in their responsibility? One approach is to say, “sucks to be you, kid. See you again when you’re 18 and you break into a house to steal a TV, and we spend $100,000 a year to lock you up.” Another approach is to say, “Parent, you suck. Kid, c’mere, and let us tell you what mom’s too high to tell you.”

Fiscal responsibility, it seems, demands the latter approach.

If those were the choices, sure. But any meaningful intervention by teachers to ameliorate the deficiencies in parenting require a huge reduction in reasources available to the education of other kids.

Absolutely true. So what’s the solution?

(This is why I don’t want to be a teacher.)

To echo Whynot, what do you suggest? There’s the possibility of not socializing that second-grader whose parents have failed him and who is therefore throwing things at other students and singing loudly while I’m trying to teach the commutative property–but that means the well-socialized kids learn nothing. There’s the possibility of kicking that second-grader out of school–but that means that kid is condemned to a pretty shitty existence, based on the failure of his parents, and it also means we’ll probably be spending a shitload of money later on dealing with his poor behavior as an adult. Do you see another possibility I haven’t mentioned yet?